The gruesome murder of Qandeel Baloch has triggered a curious set of reactions in the media on both sides of the border. In Pakistan, the response has been pretty straightforward. While the liberal media has denounced the killing, the conformists haven't spared Baloch even in death, instead springing to the defence of the brother who strangulated her.
In India, however, the tragic snuffing out of a non-conformist defiant girl's life has not received the unqualified condemnation it deserves. In a strange fear, where criticising Baloch's killing may upset the fragile balance of political correctness that rules their pretentious universe, some commentators have tried to stall discussion over the heinous crime by drawing all sorts of false equivalences.
The murder of a woman who defied convention, broke through regressive social mores and insisted on being seen and heard in a society where women are always advised to remain invisible, must be absolute. It should not be held hostage to fear of Islamophobia, even if there seems to be a direct link between her brother Muhammad Wasim's outdated cultural, social and religious beliefs that provided context to the heinous act of criminality.
It is the least we could do to pay respect to the trailblazer who in her own wonderfully kitschy, narcissistic way, challenged a society where women are constantly subjected to varying versions and degrees of shame and took in her stride the countless threats and slut-shaming that was heaped on her.
Baloch's irreverent social media posts and her defiant lifestyle was seen as a major threat to Pakistan's deeply conservative society where strident mores of patriarchy meet the tenets of shariah law in a complex mix.
Buzzfeed's Dubai-based staffer Imaan Sheikh writes in a brilliant piece titled We all killed Qandeel, that in a society where "family matters are supposed to be whispered about behind closed doors, Qandeel talked openly about how she was forcibly married at 17, and was tortured by her husband who even threatened to burn her face with acid. She escaped with her baby son, whose custody she lost, and took refuge at a welfare centre.
"Even this horrifying domestic violence case was called 'drama' by hundreds of Pakistanis, who laughed at her..."
Her brother, since the murder, has appeared totally remorseless before the media. "Yes of course, I strangled her," Wasim told reporters in Multan on Sunday. "It was around 10.45 pm when I gave her a tablet (drugged her)... and then killed her. I am not embarrassed at all over what I did. Whatever was the case, it (his sister's behaviour) was completely intolerable."
It may shock us, but Wasim's defiance is a testament to his conviction that he was merely upholding the family's honour by killing his sister. In the strange way that patriarchy operates, women, the most fragile species that must be guarded and kept in tight control by men are also the custodians of honour. The hands that squeezed Baloch's throat were of his brother's, but Wasim was emboldened by the belief that out there in the wide, his act won't be deemed as a criminality by a society which teaches a woman to be ashamed of her body.
"Her brother may have strangled her, but the viewers who declared her worthy of a humiliating death every single day, were his might. The scholars who incited violence against her on TV, were his might. The internally misogynistic women who said she deserved to go to hell for destroying the image of Muslim women, were his might. The laughing "moderately religious" person here is no less than a violent extremist. The silent moderate who won't speak up about how she isn't a national shame or a blow to Islam, also shares the blame," Sheikh writes.
— Kaushik (@i_k_b) July 16, 2016
Qandeel is herself responsible for what happened with her, she had not left any choice for her family: Haroon Rashid pic.twitter.com/O5zvv6chHu
— Dunya News (@DunyaNews) July 16, 2016
Nearly 1,000 women are murdered in Pakistan each year in the name of honor killing and often these murders are committed by family members. Even so much as talking to a male friend over phone could result in death.
While the regressive socio-cultural practices are also prevalent in some parts of India like Haryana, there is a difference in how the two countries approach the problem.
Islamic law in Pakistan allows a murder victim’s family to pardon the killer, which often allows those convicted of honour killings to escape punishment.
In India, honour killings have attracted the death penalty. In a landmark judgement in March 2010, the Karnal district court ordered the execution of five perpetrators of an honour killing in Kaithal, and gave life imprisonment to the khap panchayat chief who ordered the killings of Manoj Banwala (23) and Babli (19), a couple of the same clan who eloped and married in June 2007.
According to Pakistani activists Hina Jilani and Eman M Ahmed, Indian women are considerably better protected against honour killings by Indian law and government than Pakistani women, and they have suggested that the governments of countries affected by honour killings use the Indian law as a model in order to prevent honour killings in their respective societies.
We may still be struggling with female infanticide and honour killing, but a Poonam Pandey can go about her life in India pretty much the way she wants to. A Sunny Leone can relaunch her career from being an adult entertainment star in the US to a Bollywood actor here in her own right. Let's not self-flagellate.
In March this year, Baloch posted a tweet asking for an Indian citizenship as she was "disappointed from Pakistan" and tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "In Pakistan, people are not ready to accept me. It would be much easier for me to work in India," she wrote.
Baloch was loud, frequently garish and even unfunny. But she pushed back against a Pakistan society which oppressed her and reclaimed her life with dignity. She deserves our unqualified respect.
A counterview to this was published on Firstpost. Read it here